Design for the Real World: Interstate Signs


Friday, January 21, 2011

Road signs on interstate highways have been standardized since the Eisenhower era. But the typeface is badly out of date, and it looks fuzzy in all sorts of road conditions. Graphic designer Don Meeker explains how he helped bring highway signage back into focus with a typeface called Clearview. Produced by Studio 360’s Derek John.

Don Meeker, Highway Signs Slide 1
Don Meeker

These images illustrate the difference between a daylight view of the two standard typefaces used on highway signs and the nighttime view with halation, as seen by an older driver, when high brightness sign materials are used.

Don Meeker, Highway Signs Slide 2
Don Meeker

Current freeway guide signs are based on a fixed measurement system adopted in 1958 (left).  The example shown has over 31 measurements with great variation from sign to sign based on content. The new Proportion Based Grid System with Clearview Type System (right) optimizes the readability of the panel.  Layout is based on only nine dimensions that are all a proportion of the primary legend.  As size of the primary legend changes based on road speed and motorists viewing requirements, the panel can be adapted accordingly.

Don Meeker, Highway Signs Slide 3
Don Meeker

BEFORE: an old road sign.

Don Meeker, Highway Signs Slide 4
Don Meeker

AFTER: a new road sign with Proportion Based Grid System and the Clearview Type System.

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Derek John

Comments [4]


I like how the new font brings things closer. Hellertown doesn't seem, like 2 miles away anymore.

Apr. 02 2011 11:37 AM
Ben from Indiana, PA (USA)

It's fascinating to see how emotional people can become over type fonts. When I show students the same document with only the type font changed, they sound like they're reacting to a new hairstyle... "Ohhh yeahhh" "makes me gag," "doesn't excite me." Choosing the font can be more fun than writing the content!

Jan. 23 2011 01:17 PM
Jenny from Studio 360

Dear Paul --

Your wish is our instant command!

Actually, we've had a new site in the works for a while now and we're almost ready to unveil it. And I'm almost certain it will compatible for fingers of all sizes.

Stay tuned,


Jan. 23 2011 11:47 AM
Paul from Nj

Interesting piece! Intrigued by the radio story I scampered off to my trusty iPad to get a glimpse of the modernized highway traffic signs. Indeed there are very useful improvements there since the origin of the font and placement originally implemented in 1958. Hats off to the graphic artists and the highway folks formaking the effective improvements in our lives.

Further to this, I was wondering if you could apply there expertise to improve the design of your radio 360 web site? While a very wonderful site with information I truly enjoy, the buttons for moving through slides aee too small for me to navigate back in forth between pictures using my iPad. I suppose this is understandable. I suspect the site and forward backward buttons were designed in the old days when people relied soley on mice to navigate the site. New modern devices rely on my fat fingers to navigate and require modernization!

Keep up the good work

I love your show.


Jan. 22 2011 08:12 AM

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